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Big Society

Bridgend Farmhouse

As council budgets are slashed, local authorities are being forced to explore new ways in which their services can be delivered. Everything is on the agenda – privatisation, partnerships, co-operatives, social enterprises, community ownership, charities, churches, volunteer and self-help groups. There’s much talk of philanthropy, capacity building and empowerment.

But whether this jumble of terms will actually see local services survive is still the great unknown. The economics and indeed the legalities of this transfer of responsibility have yet to be worked out. It could be the beginning of a new, more active society or it could be a retreat from all sorts of public service.

Craigmillar Castle

Craigmillar Castle

Take the case I am personally involved in, Bridgend Farmhouse. This is a derelict building, standing on the edge of a woodland around Craigmillar Castle on the south side of Edinburgh.

A group of seven of us, all volunteers, have formed a charity to restore the house and open it as a community centre, specialising in the environment. The idea is that it will become a cafe and community kitchen to encourage healthy eating, linked to the nearby allotments. It will also be a base for training and educational courses – especially for people with learning difficulties – and a heritage and outdoor exercise centre.

This, of course, spans a whole range of council services…a community centre, an outdoor classroom for local schools, a training centre for mentally disabled people or the young unemployed, a base for sports such as orienteering or cross-country biking, or summer clubs studying wildlife or local history. It also fulfils some of the general aims of the local council….to encourage people to take more exercise, to move to a healthier diet, to enjoy their local woodland and run their own affairs.

But the leap of faith required, by both council and community, is large and forbidding and uncharted. There is a need for pioneers – legislators, council officials, charities and community activists – if we are to make the transfer of services actually happen on the ground.

The Council needs to adopt more innovative thinking

The Council needs to adopt more innovative thinking

One problem we have found at Bridgend, for instance, is that the council is reluctant to hand over the farmhouse until we have got a grant to renovate it. But we cannot get a grant until we have ownership of the farmhouse. Grant- giving bodies don’t simply want to pay for the restoration of a council building. You would think this dilemma could be overcome by some sort of lease arrangement but so far this has not been tried.

Another problem is finding the start-up funds for the services that will be provided in the farmhouse. Again you would think that some sort of partnership arrangement could be reached with the council whereby it transfers some of its staff to the farmhouse projects for, say, a transitional first year. So far that has not been tried.

A third issue is management of the farmhouse and its projects. How do you move from professional management of buildings and services to volunteer management? The recent improvements in charity laws – Scottish charitable incorporated organisations (SCIO), community benefit societies, co-operatives, community development trusts etc – have certainly helped, by giving protection to volunteer trustees in return for public scrutiny of their constitutions and accounts. But these are bureaucratic burdens rather than attractions to keep volunteers actively involved. Perhaps there’s a role here for part-time paid managers as well as volunteers on trustee committees. But here again there no legal arrangements for roles which are half employee and half trustee.

Can 'Big Society' social projects take off  without State support?

Can ‘Big Society’ social projects take off
without State support?

And a final problem is how to convert the public to community services that are neither council run nor commercial? The Prime Minister has been trying to do this for three years with his vision of the Big Society. He clearly believes this will happen more or less by itself, without state interference. So there are few state subsidies for it, nor even new tax breaks.

But fortunately, the general trend towards individualised state support has given charities an opportunity to charge for their services eg individual learning accounts, self-directed support for disabled people, free personal care. But we could go further with, say, college vouchers, or apprenticeship grants, community service vouchers. Unemployment and welfare benefits could be earned in volunteer programmes run in places like our farmhouse.

A good way of linking a community centre into the life of its neighbourhood is to make it place where people go to learn, exercise, eat and be entertained. Hopefully, they will be getting enough out of it to be prepared to pay for it.

But before that can happen, the legal and organisational framework has to be properly developed. That is our current challenge. So let’s see our MSP’s respond to this challenge as they start work on the Community Empowerment Bill.

Transgression Park

Transgression Park

By John Knox

The name fascinated me: Transgression Park. It suddenly appeared on a large warehouse on the edge of Edinburgh’s Craigmillar estate. Was it a prison? Was it somewhere you went to commit a crime, or confess a crime, or buy a crime?

It turns out to be a perfectly respectable, indeed admirable, place where young people can skateboard, rollerblade or ride their BMX bikes. And it opened for business this weekend.

“Skateboarders and bikers are often looked upon as outlaws,” Doug McFadzean told me. “So we’re providing them with a safe place to come and practice their skills and meet their friends.” McFadzean and his co-director Ken Smith are two young entrepreneurs who are in the business of giving young people something positive to do.

“People see kids flying about on their bikes or jumping pavements with their skateboards and they often regard them as a menace, or even menacing,” McFadzean said. “But actually, all they are doing is playing. And why shouldn’t they? So we want to give them a space of their own where they can keep this slightly edgy, street-cred feel but be safe, dry and warm at the same time.”

They have invested “a six-figure sum” converting a large warehouse on an industrial estate into a state-of-the-art skate park with swoops and curves and bowls and railings, topped off with smooth birchwood. You can hire bikes or skateboards or rollerblades and helmets etc and, at £8 for a couple of hours, you can jump, swish, roll, tumble your way around this covered neighbourhood till you are exhausted. Then you can sit in the café and talk about it all to your friends. The place is open in the evenings and at weekends when teenagers seem to have all the time in the world to kill.

During the day, Transgression Park offers biking tuition to younger children – from the age of five. Schools will use it for their activity sessions. Troubled youngsters will be offered sessions there as a reward for good behaviour. It is creating four permanent full-time jobs, plus freelance work for instructors, in an area desperately short of employment.

“The city council has been very supportive,” McFadzean said. “But there is no direct public money involved. It’s entirely a private venture.”

It is a shining example of how the private sector can bring a little life, and exercise, into the world of teenagers growing up on a housing estate. Craigmillar, and the neighbouring Prestonfield, Inch and Moredun and Gilmerton estates are among the poorest 5 per cent of neighbourhoods in Scotland. Levels of attainment in the schools, absenteeism and exclusions, are not good, and youth unemployment is a major problem.

transgr2There are similar skate parks in Dundee, Aberdeen, Dumbarton and East Kilbride, and McFadzean and Smith have run one before, at Ocean Terminal in Edinburgh. “We’ve transferred to Craigmillar because it’s a bigger venue and it’s nearer our market,” they explained.

Perhaps these commercial ventures are what is meant by “alternative business models” being explored by councils to cope with the government’s spending cuts but still keep services running. Perhaps it is even what is meant by David Cameron’s “Big Society”.

My dictionary says “transgression” literally means “to step over”, and this is what we have in this warehouse at Craigmillar – a place where kids can step over their skateboards or bikes but also step over into a place of adventure and fun, risky living among their peers. And it’s a place where private business can cross the line into public service. I wish the transgressors all the best for their opening week.

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Tormore Forest <em>Picture: John Knox</em>

Tormore Forest Picture: John Knox

By John Knox

A wood on the Isle of Skye has become the latest community land buyout in Scotland. And although the pine trees may not know it, they have joined a new experiment in community living in which the Big Society is becoming the Small Society.

Tormore Forest near the southern tip of Skye has been bought from the Forestry Commission (FC) by the Sleat Community Trust (SCT) for £330,000. The community itself has contributed just £16,000 – but, cleverly, it has borrowed half the total sum from the bank and will be repaid by harvesting some of the mature trees already growing in the forest. Grants from Highland Council and the Scottish government made up the rest.

Supporters of the buyout – and only seven of the 350 local householders voted against it – say it’s a “win-win” proposition. The FC gets £330,000 to invest in new forests elsewhere. The SCT can go on to develop the forest for fuel, timber, recreation, school projects, tourism etc on its own terms. And the council and the government get rural development for a fraction of the cost of doing it through state agencies.

Reassuringly, the SCT is no fly-by-night amateur organisation. It already runs the village shop and post office at Armadale, a local repair garage, a woodchip business, a machine-hire operation, a taxi service, a tourism agency – and it’s considering building a 900kW windmill on top of a local hill. It has just won the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. This is the prime minister’s Big Society in action, except it’s a small society of just 350 people.

These 440 hectares of forest are just the latest example of localism in a country which is gradually reclaiming its land from the mighty landlords of the past. Over 100 community land buyouts, involving 200,000 hectares, have been made since the Scottish parliament passed the Land Reform Act in 2003. This has allowed communities in places such as Assynt, Knoydart, Harris, Gigha and Rum to buy their estates and develop them for themselves. Woodlands, golf courses, churches, a youth hostel – even an avenue of trees – have all been bought by the communities living around them.

So far, all buyouts have been amicable affairs, with the landlord willing or persuaded to sell. But the 10,000-hectare Pairc Estate on Lewis appears to be the exception, with threats of court action by the landlord, a Warwickshire accountant whose family have owned the estate since the 1920s. The Daily Telegraph, predictably, has called the islanders’ attempt to buy the estate a Mugabe-style land grab.

David Cameron, chair of the umbrella body Community Land Scotland, would presumably disagree. His organisation believes that land-ownership by communities increases its value as a source of jobs, revenue and services – and what is called “social capital”, the ability of communities to help themselves. Two recent studies have backed this up: one from the Scottish Agriculture College, the other from the Perth-based Centre for Mountain Studies.

The other David Cameron, he of the Big Society, would presumably agree that services being run by local trusts is a good thing. The problem seems to be making the model work across the country, not just in the Highlands and Islands. The key, and frightening, element is ownership.

Making people feel they are the owners of their local school or park or forest or factory or street seems to bring out their commitment and hard work. In the Highlands, that can be done village by village. In the cities, it is being attempted by councils but it may, in the end, have to be done by neighbourhoods. It depends how small we want the Big Society.

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Martin Sime

Martin Sime

Martin Sime is director of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, and writes a monthly column for The Caledonian Mercury.

Last week, the website False Economy, backed by the TUC, released figures for England on the impact that local authority spending cuts are already having on voluntary organisations.

Based on answers to freedom of information requests made to councils across England, False Economy estimates that charities will lose at least £110m this year as a result of council cuts alone – and they say that’s a conservative estimate. Many of those to lose funding are supporting children, the elderly and people with disabilities.

It’s clear that the cuts are already having a severe social effect, but such a huge economic impact raises the question of whether voluntary organisations rely too much on funding from government in the first place. And it’s a question which is especially pertinent in an era of vast public spending cuts.

This very question formed the basis of a blog on the Guardian website last week.

In it, Harry Cole argued that if a charity receives more money in government “handouts” than through its own fundraising, then it is a “fake charity” and part of the state. His definition covers a huge number of charities which do fantastic work and maintain a high degree of independence from government.

The most cursory glance at the list provided by False Economy shows that the majority of these charities are genuinely independent organisations. Organisations such as the Citizens Advice Bureau and Councils of Voluntary Service which feature heavily on the list are both active critics of government policy and work towards civic engagement and participative democracy.

The idea that charities should be less dependent on state funding is one which we in the sector hear a lot – both from government and from within the sector. But the reality is that many voluntary organisations are delivering excellent services for vulnerable people, preventing future need and saving the public purse millions in the process.

In Scotland, for example, around 40 per cent of social care is delivered by the third sector, receiving consistently higher quality ratings than either the public or private sector for their standard of care. Cutting this funding is removing money from where it is needed most, from the most deprived and marginalised people in our society.

Comparing these cuts to removing “bureaucracy and waste” across Whitehall, as Cole does in his blog, shows a spectacular ignorance of the services provided by these organisations and the difference they make.

It also raises an interesting question about who we want to be delivering public services. At the same time that people like Cole express disquiet with charities taking government money, it seems that many people are, to coin a phrase, intensely relaxed about huge private businesses making a profit out of the state. Take the construction industry, for example – the impact on builders and developers of the dramatic fall in capital expenditure by governments across the UK illustrates that sector’s reliance on public sector contracts.

Closer to home, the recent awarding of Work Programme contracts to companies such as Ingeus Deloitte – established by global insurance firm Deloitte specifically to bid for Work Programme contracts and headed by a former Department for Work and Pensions civil servant – has gone almost unnoticed.

Yet it almost seems like cuts to voluntary organisations by local authorities, health boards and various arms of government are being viewed as acceptable or even necessary by many. A sketch in the Financial Times last week gave some humour to the idea that the big society will somehow leap from the ashes of a decimated third sector.

But it’s about time to debunk this myth. More people across all walks of life need to understand the value of third sector, both socially and economically. With an income of £4.4 billion a year, the third sector makes a vast difference to people’s lives up and down the country. But if government cuts are allowed to take their toll, those local lifelines will simply disappear.

It’s time to wake up to what’s happening – after all, you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

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An Eton toff <em>Picture: Pearson Scott Foresman</em>

An Eton toff Picture: Pearson Scott Foresman

By Betty Kirkpatrick

Words, like people, can be unpredictable. Take toff, for example. For quite a while it has appeared to be, if not exactly dead and buried, then at least well on its way to oblivion. This would seem understandable. After all, the class-ridden society, where toffs flourished, is supposed to be a thing of the past, especially now we are set to be members of the Big Society and are all in it together.

To be honest, toffs themselves have not actually become things of the past. The word refers to an upper-class or wealthy person, more commonly a man, often one who is particularly well-dressed. There are plenty of these still about. It is the word that has rather faded from the scene.

Now the word toff has made a comeback. It has come to public notice by getting embroiled in the battle surrounding the building of the London–Birmingham high-speed railway. In an advertising poster campaign aimed at the railway’s critics, “southern toffs” are being accused of caring more about their “southern lawns” than they do about jobs for people in the north (well, what else would you expect?), the point being that the railway would bring destruction to the first and benefits to the second.

Toff was originally lower-class slang (when we had a class system) and was probably much more used in the south than further north. First recorded around the middle of the 19th century, the word was mostly used as a term of scorn, disapproval or possibly jealousy. Occasionally it was used as a term of admiration. In this sense, a toff was a man who behaved in a particularly kind or generous way – a gent, in other words.

Like so many words, toff is of uncertain origin. The most accepted theory is that the word is derived from tuft, a slang term once used at Oxford University to refer to undergraduates who were from noble or aristocratic families. The word tuft originally referred to the gold tassel worn on the caps of some of these undergraduates.

Toffs are often presented as behaving in a condescending or supercilious way to those whom they consider to be lesser mortals. In other words, they are toffee-nosed. Whether the two expressions are linguistically related is once again uncertain. Certain it is that you can be toffee-nosed without being a toff.

Betty Kirkpatrick is the former editor of several classic reference books, including Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary and Roget’s Thesaurus. She is also the author of several smaller language reference books, including The Usual Suspects and Other Clichés published by Bloomsbury, and a series of Scots titles, including Scottish Words and Phrases, Scottish Quotations, and Great Scots, published by Crombie Jardine.

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Tony Blair <em>Picture: Remy Steinegger</em>

Tony Blair Picture: Remy Steinegger

Tony Blair – how can we get rid of the man? – is on the warpath again. Plugging his book (which has been around but which I won’t name) in a BBC interview, he outlined “our” plans for the Middle East, explaining how “we” must ensure that the Arab Spring blossoms into Western-style democracy and religious freedom across the region.

Singling out Egypt as a potential blueprint, the born-again former PM acknowledged that this will be no easy task, given that most Arab countries have little experience of democracy or religious tolerance and are plagued by tribalism. So far so good, and fair enough.

But how do “we” shape the Middle East into the kind of region “we” want it to be? “We” didn’t manage very well when “we” invaded Iraq, where violence persists more than eight years on, though that reality has long faded from newspaper headlines.

That wouldn’t stop Blair, though, would it? He seems to be enjoying the daily bombardment of Libya, confident that regime change will be effected there in due course. What happens after that? He didn’t say. He obviously doesn’t know, though he is the EU Middle East envoy – a very big job indeed, as the BBC points out, without wondering why he has the job in the first place.

I suppose Blair wants us to read his book, but life is too short for that, surely. I wonder what it has to say about David Kelly? Blair had nothing to say today.

Closer to home, yet even closer to Heaven than Blair, the Archbishop of Canterbury drew embarrassed, defensive comments from the Tories and Lib Dems after he excoriated them in the New Statesman for ploughing ahead with an agenda no one voted for. He is right, of course, but with the coalition government all over the place on health and justice and the bankers and just about everything else, Sky News thought it pertinent to remind viewers that the New Statesman virtually speaks for the Labour party (what, as the Spectator speaks for the Tories? Tell us something we don’t know).

Boris Johnson, spluttering away as usual on Sky, suggested the Arch Bish (I kid you not) potter along to a community garden somewhere in London to take a look for himself how the Big Society is actually working. I couldn’t help imagining Boris as a vicar himself, dog collar and all, wandering around a church fête. sampling the cakes and sipping tea – surely a job more suited to him than his current one.

Imagine him at the pulpit: he’d certainly get the congregation up, he’d have them in stitches, but as a politician he’s a twit. They seem to know how to produce them at Eton.

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Fallen tree beside the Albert Halls, Stirling

Fallen tree beside the Albert Halls, Stirling

Well, that was quite a blow. It was several notches down the ferocity scale from what happened in the USA the day before, and it certainly wasn’t the end of the world, but it was a heck of a storm by Scottish standards.

Windspeeds in excess of 100mph in Shetland, or at Cape Wrath, or on the 1,200-metre summit of Cairn Gorm are not as unusual as some might think – but the same strength of gust at just 560 metres on the flank of Glen Ogle is a different matter. (Not that Glen Ogle has been a stranger to extreme weather events in recent years – at least one of the bridges taken out hereabouts by the 2004 cloudburst has still to be replaced.)

And while a seriously big gale sweeping across Scotland is bad enough at any time, for it to happen in late May – with the trees in almost full leaf and catching the gusts like the sails of a ship – was always going to cause major damage and disruption in terms of power failures, bridge closures, ferry cancellations, etc.

There was one death – in Balloch at the foot of Loch Lomond, where a 36-year-old van driver was crushed by a falling tree – and it’s surprising there weren’t more, given the number of whole trees and heavyweight branches that came down. A mid-evening walk around Stirling – in lashing rain as the gale began to slacken a little (while remaining strong enough for trees and slate-shedding roofs to be avoided wherever possible) – was through a scene of leafy destruction, and it was the same across the whole central swathe of Scotland.

It was interesting to observe which kind of trees had succumbed and which had survived, as there did appear to be a trend. Aspect was crucial of course – anything exposed to the south-west was very vulnerable, as was any tree at the end of a corridor of buildings where the wind had scope to bounce and funnel through in even more concentrated form. Anything sheltered – even by other trees, in a static, arboreal version of animals bunching together for safety – stood a better chance of remaining standing.

Stocky, rounded trees didn’t come out of it well – a neighbour’s sturdy-looking fruit tree, tucked into what looked to be quite a sheltered corner, was over on its side, roots ripped out, and there were others of this type including a couple of cherry trees close to a riverside walkway. Conversely, tall thin trees showed amazing elasticity as they bent and flexed in even the biggest gusts. Our young birch – ten years old, five or six metres high but still very slender – appeared unbreakable, despite bending not far off 45 degrees from the vertical at times. Similarly, a tall, bare-boned eucalyptus in another neighbour’s garden never looked like snapping.

Perhaps the biggest toll, however, came from the horizontal branches of old sturdy sycamores and the like – there were any number of these strewn around, potentially lethal as they fell, then blocking roads and pavements once they lay. I chatted with a man and his son in the well-heeled King’s Park area of Stirling – they had spent the past couple of hours chainsawing a large branch, and were now putting several dozen logs into barrows to be stashed for next winter’s firewood. “Just imagine how much wood there would be if the whole thing came down,” the man said as he looked up at the massive tree with its bright wound where the branch had been torn off.

Transport was a lost cause in the late afternoon and early evening, with trains cancelled and roads turned into slow-moving backlogs even where they weren’t actually blocked. There will have been many instances of people helping each other to cope with problems and to clear roads and pathways, and one such incident – instructive in its way – happened close to my own house. I was meant to be driving into Glasgow for the evening, and didn’t really fancy it – but decided to give it a go and see how far was feasible.

Exactly half a mile proved to be the answer, as the only road out of the village was blocked by a massive fallen branch. A visiting workman – trapped on the wrong side of the obstacle – was literally scratching his head when I pulled in alongside, and despite moving a couple of smaller branches between us, it was obvious that the big one needed machinery of some kind or another.

On the way back home, I flagged down a neighbour who was just about to drive out of the village and passed on the news that she wouldn’t be able to get anywhere. She was taking her wee girls to Brownies, and collecting the local farmer’s daughter en route. “I’ll see if Andy [the farmer] can do anything,” she said. And right enough – in as long as it took me to try – and to fail – to get through to both the council (“You are number 16 in the queue. Please wait”) and the police and then to drive back along to see what could be done manually, Andy the farmer had already been out in his big JCBish seed-spreading machine and shoved the offending timber on to the verge.

Perhaps it was a Big Society moment – or perhaps it was simply what used to be known as sensible, helpful, all-pull-together behaviour. Problem solved – and road quickly re-opened – anyway.

Talking of politics, one final thought. The biggest weather-and-transport disruption to hit Scotland since the December snowstorm came just three days after Stewart Stevenson returned to the Holyrood cabinet table. Mr Stevenson had – rightly or wrongly, fairly or unfairly – lost his previous portfolio, that of transport minister, on the back of December’s icy gridlock. And pretty much the minute he returns – to take up the environment and climate change brief – we get this. Could it be that the weather gods are trying to tell us something…?

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David McLetchie with Iain Duncan Smith

David McLetchie with Iain Duncan Smith

The Caledonian Mercury has invited some of those in the election firing-line to send regular bulletins about the personal side of campaigning. David McLetchie is a former leader of the Scottish Conservatives and is standing for re-election in Edinburgh Pentlands.

Tuesday 29 March
Amazing how fast things can change in politics. This morning we are licking our media wounds from our candidate problems in Glasgow, but by tonight everyone is talking about Annabel [Goldie]’s excellent performance in the STV leaders’ debate, where she and Alex Salmond outclassed their rivals and her no-nonsense straight-talking style won plaudits even from the non-Tories.

Sometimes you just have to brush off these little local difficulties which obsess the political village but have scant impact with real people, and get on with putting out our message. That is exactly what she did, to a T. Of course it is never wise for other parties to crow or delight in the internal difficulties of opponents, because sure as guns it will happen to you.

Right on cue, Hugh O’Donnell defects from the Lib Dems and denounces the coalition government at Westminster. Over to you, Tavish.

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As it happens, I am on Newsnicht with George Lyon who is the campaign manager for the Lib Dems, so our respective candidate woes get an airing before we get on to the Westminster impact on the Scottish election and in particular the increased tax on North Sea oil production which is paying for the fuel duty reductions – announced in the budget – and the stabiliser.

Given the soaring price of oil, I think the oil companies are crying wolf and say so. The priority is to help our motorists across the whole of Scotland and the rest of the UK, which is what Osborne has done. Good for him.

Nominations close today. Four candidates in my Edinburgh Pentlands constituency, which is what I expected. Out delivering my introductory leaflet to constituents, which is focused on my record as their MSP for the last eight years.

I won the seat from the present Labour leader Iain Gray in the 2003 election. It turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to him. He missed out on the 2003–07 parliament, but steadily climbed through the Labour ranks working as a special advisor to Alistair Darling, whose star was also in the Labour ascendant.

Result – Iain gets a safe Labour seat in East Lothian in 2007, he and his wife Gill move home from Currie to Haddington and when Wendy Alexander calls it a day he becomes Labour leader in the parliament. Talk about ups and downs.

Wednesday 30 March
Annabel joins me on a visit to the Edinburgh Prison Officers Social Club in Longstone and I congratulate her on her performance. She has a real spring in her step and her confidence will have soared as a resuilt. Against the backdrop of HMP Edinburgh we display a Monopoly card illustrating the SNP’s get out jail free policy on automatic early release and the abolition of short-term sentences to which we are strongly opposed – although the broadcast media are more interested in council tax!

So be it. We can talk about that as well.

Securing the long-term future of the social club – which has 1,600 members, most of whom live locally – is a big issue for me. Basically the Scottish Prison Service wants to sell all the surplus land surrounding the jail for housing, including the site on which the club stands and where it has been for over 50 years.

In 2009, the club came within days of eviction and it was only at the last minute that I finally persuaded the SNP government to grant the first in what has become a series of short-term leases. The original land deal has fallen through and a new valuation and feasibility study has been commissioned. I want the government to sell the site at valuation to the club, which has the means to buy the land and thereby secure its future.

Thursday 31 March
We are all piling in to the story about the SNP government mounting legal challenges in the Court of Session. They are trying to prevent the release of a memo from the government’s chief economist on the subject of local income tax – a SNP policy dropped by John Swinney in 2009. He did this on the pretext that there was no parliamentary majority for it, although it had been comprehensively trashed by then as unworkable, undesirable and not properly costed. We expect the memo to say much the same, but in politer civil service-speak.

Another success for Annabel – this time in the Scotsman leaders’ debate. As ever, she engages with her audience and gets the message across. And, needless to say, she wasted no time in getting stuck in to the first minister over the aforementioned local income tax fiasco: “I smell fish, fish, fish” was the quote of the night.

Friday 1 April
Iain Duncan Smith visits my campaign HQ in Colinton and gives a short speech on welfare reform to our local activists. I admire his commitment to social justice and his desire to move people off long-term welfare dependency into meaningful and gainful employment. I was with Iain when he made his seminal visit as Tory leader to Easterhouse and Gallowgate in Glasgow, which was the birthplace of that commitment, and he now has the opportunity in government to translate his ideas into action.

We visit the local post office – one that wasn’t closed by Labour – and he talks to our postmaster about our plans for developing their business through links with credit unions. By chance, one of the customers is aware of this idea and they have a discussion about it.

After that, it’s off for a coffee in the local cafe and sit-down interviews for Iain with Ian Swanson of the Evening News and Michael Tait of the Mail on Sunday.

We are gearing up for our manifesto launch on Monday, so I spend some time at Central Office discussing the logistics and choreography of the event. When these things go well, no one notices – but boy do you hear about it when there’s a hitch. Fingers crossed.

Saturday 2 April
Relatively quiet Saturday in the constituency out and about meeting people, then spend several hours in the afternoon finishing off the text for the newspaper which will be our next delivery to homes in Pentlands. It’s a lot harder writing short tabloid-style articles than lengthy pieces.

As politicians, we have all been on the wrong end of news stories and complain when they are not written as we would like. At the same time, you have to admire the talents of journalists who can rattle off several hundred readable words at the drop of a hat when up against a tight print deadline and reduce complex issues down to the essentials. I’ve learnt a lot about how to do this in my time as an MSP, but it still doesn’t come that easily.

Sunday 3 April
Mother’s Day. Sheila and I go to the Botanics for brunch with her daughter Catriona and husband Mark and their two children Ruari and Megan aged three and 18 months respectively. Mark is a Kiwi and Ruari was born in Auckland.

Once he has finished going in and out the automatic doors a few times, Ruari goes straight to the giant display map of the world and points out New Zealand to me. I am impressed – this is a boy who hasn’t given up on being an All Black.

It’s a beautiful day and we have a stroll in the gardens to work off the full Scottish breakfast. The Botanics is one of my favourite places in Edinburgh and the gardens are full of visitors. However, the election is never far away and I make it home in time to do a TV and radio interview about the latest opinion poll and a preview of our manifesto launch.

After that, I sit back and watch the Edinburgh derby on TV and delight in the Hearts equaliser before going off to visit my Mum for afternoon tea. She is going on 88 but still manages to live independently, which is a blessing.

Early to bed for an early rise and the second full week of the campaign. It has been an eventful start.

Monday 4 April
Up at six to drive through to Glasgow for interview on Good Morning Scotland with Gary Robertson about our manifesto. Lots of questions about money, so just as well we have all the costings nailed down thanks to the prodigious efforts of our finance expert Derek Brownlee.

Then it’s next door to the Glasgow Science Centre for the launch itself. Very good location, even if it’s a really dreich day. We start with a brief for our candidates who have joined us from all over Scotland as well as local activists, then it’s on to the presentation itself, for which there is an excellent media turnout from the broadcasters and the press.

I act as MC and introduce Annabel, who delivers a spirited and comprehensive summary of our programme. She then joins a panel with Murdo Fraser and Derek Brownlee to respond to questions from the press, which I referee. No real problems. Somebody makes the mistake of asking about money, no doubt hoping to catch us out, but in reply is given a blizzard of statistics from Derek, quoting from his 50-page financial brief which we have published alongside the manifesto, and we hear no more on that subject.

The secret is always to give an authoritative detailed answer. If you do, you rarely get asked twice.

Wedge questions focus on apparent differences between the Conservatives north and south of the Border. Much beloved of journalists, they are designed to enable them to write stories about Tory splits and are now more popular than ever since David Cameron became PM.

Murdo deals with a wedge question about why we are not following the health reforms down south and explains the different organisational basis of the NHS in Scotland which makes them inappropriate. However it’s also a chance to emphasise what we would do for the health service in Scotland with the money being wasted by the SNP on free prescriptions for all.

Another wedge question at the end. Why no reference to the Big Society in our manifesto? Annabel does a brilliant job on this – Scotland is our Big Society, she declares, and our manifesto is all about making life better for Scots. Cue applause from the audience and end of press conference.

We are pleased with the launch and return to Edinburgh HQ in a positive mood. I do a BBC radio interview for Scotland at 10 with Sarah Paterson on the manifesto to bookend the day broadcastwise, and that’s it. I am a tired Tim, but the broadcasters have given us fair and favourable coverage and I expect positives in the papers tomorrow – so all in all a good day.

Tuesday 5 April
What did I say about the misfortunes of others? Poor Tavish now has to cope with his former MSP John Farquhar Munro backing wee Eck for first minister, and this competes with our launch for press coverage.

Overall, it’s favourable and we are commended for being honest about the affordability of freebies such as prescriptions and bus travel for everyone over 60 in the current climate. The key question is will voters prefer our realism, by contrast with the more comfortable delusions which others will promote, in sufficient numbers to increase our tally of seats?

Is honesty the best policy? Does bravery have its own reward? We shall see.

Meantime, it’s another early start for me as I do a business breakfast hosted by Grayling, a public affairs company. Willie Rennie is there for the Lib Dems prior to going off to their manifesto launch, David Whitton for Labour and Jim Eadie for the SNP. David has made the transition from being Donald Dewar’s spin doctor to a MSP in his own right and is one of Labour’s more assured performers.

We are asked to speculate about the outcome of the election and whether a minority government was preferable to a majority coalition. David recalls the 1999 post-election negotiations between Labour and the Lib Dems and contrasts their thick dossier of policy proposals with Donald’s back-of-the-envelope list of what he saw as the key points.

The point is that we shouldn’t expect an immediate outcome and it may be a week or more before the new government emerges. I agree.

Last time, the SNP got an easy ride once they won the largest number of seats by 47 to 46 over Labour. Alex Salmond did a deal with the two Greens and won the first minister ballot with 49 votes. This time there will be a lot more in the mix in terms of a policy programme for a new government and how we deal with the financial situation and public sector reform.

Wednesday 6 April
“Scottish Labour will abolish the failed Scottish Labour.” When political parties are writing in their own manifesto that they will abolish themselves, two feelings take over. The first is to join in the fun and laugh wholeheartedly. The second is to sympathise with your opponents, curse the proof-reader and think “There but for the grace of God go I.”

I was once at a poster launch where the unveiling revealed completely the wrong ad. We’ve all been there and you have to feel for the poor sowel who will carry the can for that one, and for Iain Gray who becomes the laughing stock as a result of the error just at a time when he needs a bit of gravitas. Still, we had a few giggles at that one.

One word was missing from the Labour manifesto, though – sorry. After all, they created the financial mess and the crisis facing our country.

It’s easy to blow holes in this manifesto. Iain Gray says he will freeze council tax – but repeatedly voted against a freeze. He says university can be free – but his spokesman had said a graduate contribution was “inevitable”.

He says he will keep the 1,000 extra police delivered by the Conservatives – but promised none four years ago and voted against the budgets which delivered them.

It’s a copycat somersaulting manifesto of uncosted wishes and we waste no time in pointing that out.

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Martin Sime, director, SCVO

Martin Sime, director, SCVO

The Westminster government is expecting the voluntary sector to provide an ever-increasing range of services as part of its Big Society initiative.

To stimulate debate in this controversial area, we have invited Martin Sime, director of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, to write a monthly column.

In this the first of these, he condemns the way the government’s Work Programme has been handled in practice.

Last week saw the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) award contracts for the Work Programme, designed to get unemployed people into jobs. From the outset, it was always going to be tough for non-profit groups to win the prime contractor status – payment is by results, pricing all but the largest organisations out of the market. But few expected the third sector to be carved out of the process to the extent that it has been.

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Out of 40 contracts across the UK worth around £5bn, only two went to not-for-profit groups. The rest all went to big business, with Scotland’s two prime contracts going to private companies.

In line with the UK government’s Big Society drive, the DWP had insisted that at least 30 per cent of the work involved in delivering these contracts should be fulfilled by the third sector.

Yet Igneus, one of the successful bidders in Scotland, has only given a commitment to deliver a mere 8 per cent of the service through the third sector. The other prime contractor in Scotland – Working Links – is offering just 6 per cent third sector involvement.

This abysmal record shows that the DWP’s claim that the work programme provides “a massive boost for the Big Society” is far from the truth. These decisions were about cost, not expertise.

Some may think that in these tough economic times, a focus on cost is inevitable. But it’s increasingly clear that the UK government’s approach has more to do with ideology than practicality. In Scotland, both the Labour Party and the SNP have committed to jobs schemes with the third sector at their heart. Labour promises 10,000 jobs through a Scottish Future Jobs Fund and the SNP in government have set up Community Jobs Scotland to deliver 2,000 jobs from this summer. The SNP’s programme is being led by SCVO and the Scottish Social Enterprise Coalition – it’s hard to see how this could be any more pro-third sector.

Experience in welfare to work programmes over the last three decades has shown that it’s voluntary organisations, community groups and social enterprises that are best placed to get people from hard-to-reach groups into work. And research has time and again shown that we have higher success rates than the private sector. SCVO leads the Scottish Third Sector Consortium – a group of 300 organisations from across the third sector.

The consortium successfully bid for and delivered 2,202 jobs for unemployed young people under the previous UK government’s Future Jobs Fund. Our successes are clear and organisations across the third sector want to do more.

The private sector’s record on getting people into work, on the other hand, is worryingly poor. A recent investigation by Westminster’s public accounts committee showed some private providers got less than 15 per cent of clients into jobs. The dropout rate was even more marked – a quarter of the successful clients left their new jobs within 13 weeks.

But the real tragedy here is not simply that some of Scotland’s excellent third sector organisations missed out on contracts and vital income – but that vulnerable people, far from the labour market and in need of expert preparation and support to get a job, will be sidelined at the expense of easy-to-place graduates.

The third sector will be relegated to subcontracting. The big companies will pass on the more difficult work to us – placing those with addiction problems and mental ill-health into sustainable jobs – while they take a larger percentage in profits.

But at least we now know what the Big Society really means – it means the third sector gets the crumbs off the table left by big business.

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